What I Pack

When I first began my journey with AmeriCorps, I didn’t know what to pack, what to bring, what I would need, or what I would want.  Over the past four years, I have served as both a Corps Member and Team Leader for the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), FEMA Corps, and the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT).  In the next couple months, I will be beginning my last year of service with AmeriCorps as a second year member of the ERT.

One of the biggest questions that I’ve always heard is “What do I need to pack/bring with me?”

I’m not a traditional packer.  While most of my teammates pack as lightly as possible, I bring everything I need in the event that we are called off our project to go on disaster elsewhere (after being put on standby to go to Alaska, I repacked and made sure I had enough cold weather gear even though here in Missouri it was nice and warm).  Not everyone will agree with me, but the following is a list of essential items that goes everywhere with me (read: this is part of my recommended pack out list for the ERT).

Please note that my lists for NCCC and FEMA Corps were drastically different than what follows.

Daypack.  I use my personal Fire Pack.  The AC STL ERT office supplies each of its members with a FSS Fire Pack, but I have my personal one that I am more comfortable with.  It is a True North Fireball Pack.  It’s smaller than the ones supplied by the office, so I have less space, but I keep it organized.

Water Bottles.  I carry 3-4 Nalgenes in my day pack.  More if we are on fire rotation or during fire season.  Hydration is a must, especially when it comes to fire.  I don’t use a Camel Back due to personal preference (I can’t see how much water I have left).  I have more Nalgenes and water bottles than I carry out on project with me.  At one point, I had 7 total.

I carry a personal first aid and repair kit.  I’m not going to go through whats in each, but knowing how to sew on patches to repair clothing has been invaluable (thanks mom!).  Duct tape works as well for temporary fixes.

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).  Gloves.  Ear protection.  Safety Glasses.  All are important and required.  Hard hats, Nomex (fire resistant clothing), and Fire Shelters are all provided by the office, so you don’t have go out and purchase your own.  Also, fire boots.

Long sleeve shirt.  To use a chainsaw on Forest Service Land, you must have long sleeves (everyone in the ERT does this eventually).  I have a really light, running shirt that I use for this that is always in my pack (it’s also great if your working in poison ivy).

Bandanna.  I have gone overboard on this one, so I have plenty.  Useful for putting over your face bandit style so you don’t breath in too much smoke.  They are also useful in keeping hair out of your face (unless you also sport a beard).

Multi-tool.  Great to have.  It sucks when you need one and you don’t have it.  Also, a good, sturdy pocket knife is also useful (though they can also be extremely sharp and dangerous to your fingers if proper safety protocols are not followed).

I also carry a headlamp, flashlight, compass, personal saw kit, my IRPG (Incident Response Pocket Guide), my Fireline Handbook, flagging, and snacks (granola bars, trail mix, etc).

All of that is in my day pack.  I carry it around everywhere I go.  There are a few other odds and ends that I skipped over, but whatever.

People will tell you many things about what type of clothing is needed, and it gets a little confusing at times.  So let me try to help you make sense of some of it before it happens.

When on the fireline (fighting Wildland Fires or conducting Prescribed Burns) and/or when on fire rotation (actually, you should carry this at all times), you should not have any synthetic material.  Synthetics will melt.  Melting clothing sucks and is no fun.  This includes thermal underwear.  Bad things happen when your clothing melts and sticks to your skin, trust me.  100% cotton or wool is your best friend when you’re on the fireline.  And given the fact that we should always be prepared for fire, you should have some with you.

But, that being said, cotton kills.  Not really, but that’s what I’ve been told.  Cotton clothing does not keep you warm if it is wet or damp (or when you sweat).  Wool still keeps you warm (for the most part) and synthetics are known to dry the quickest, while still insulating you.

Many people rant and rave about certain brands, certain material, and/or very specific articles of clothing, but I’ve found that a good long-sleeve wool/plaid button up shirt, wool stocking cap, and gloves work wonders when you are cold.  And layers.  Multiple, multiple layers.  Nothing sucks more than being to hot and not being able to take off a layer because you don’t have another.  Or being cold and not having another.

With all this being said, other important things are warm socks, sock liners (or really thin socks that you can wear beneath your warm socks so you aren’t rubbing blisters into your feet), work pants (I tend to gravitate toward thicker work pants, even during the summer), and multiple carabeeners (sp?).

Each person you ask will have a different response to what you should have and bring with you, so figure it out for yourself as well.  What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.


Author: stkerr

Artist. Photographer. Writer. Nomad. Alumni of AmeriCorps NCCC, FEMA Corps and the St Louis Emergency Response Team. Dispatcher.

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